I got up early, for me anyway, the morning of July 4, 1976. It was America’s Bicentennial and I wasn’t going to miss anything. It had already been a full few days, participating in the Kiwanis Bike Parade and the Woodstock Relays. Celebration was in the air. Patriotism at its finest.
Not long after I was up, my mom and I drove out to City Park and parked over near the pond. In front of us were dozens of fire trucks from Companies situated all over the county. You see, on the 4th of July that year they held the water fights. Water fights were the opposite of a tug of war. You had two teams, in this case teams of fire fighters, each on one side of a cement platform. In the middle was a large barrel. The goal was to keep the barrel from crossing onto your side, using the water pressure from a fire hose to hold your side’s place. I loved the water fights. My Godfather was a fire fighter and I loved to see him and his Company compete.
After a while of watching, I walked over to the pavilion. It was all decked out in red, white and blue. Uncle Bob told me I was allowed to get a drink from the giant trough filled with ice for free. The trough was always filled with my favourite, Jolly Time Grape Soda. I pulled the pop top, drank it quickly and read the joke on the bottom.
After several rounds in the tournament, we decided to walk up the hill to stake claim to our place to watch the fireworks. In all seriousness, in order to get a good seat, you had to go at least 10 hours in advance and call dibs. We had a picnic basket and a large blanket. We pretty much knew everyone around us. Our lunch consisted of tuna sandwiches, shoestring potato chips, Pepsi in a bottle with a straw, and cookies. Everyone in the vicinity helped the others to keep their places so you could leave for a bit and come back and your stuff would still be there. There was a small carnival on the other side of the fireworks platform, and once we ate, I walked over there to partake on a few rides. People were drinking beer in tents in a flat area near the baseball diamonds. There were games being played there all afternoon. There were bands in the park playing too.
By early afternoon, my mom took the car back home, in order to walk back out to the park later. You see there would be tens of thousands of people in the park after the fireworks were over and a one mile drive home probably would’ve taken 2 hours; it was much faster to walk. I stayed behind to swim.
The Woodstock Municipal Pool opened to the public at 1:00 every day. The pool was always busy but on the 4th of July it was a madhouse. But, all the regulars were there and I hung out with my friends all afternoon. By mid-afternoon, my mom was volunteering at the concession stand, selling pizza and pickles and Charleston Chews. By 7:00 we reunited and were socializing with our friends and neighbours in the area where the fireworks display would go. There were bands and more beer.
Before the fireworks began, a large plane flew overhead and a dozen or so parachuters jumped out and landed in the flat area at the bottom of the hill. But the fireworks, oh the fireworks. They went on for almost an hour. I remember the intense volume of the kabooms at the end, drowning out the marching band playing. And, I remember the long walk back home, running ahead, and once home, going out the 2nd floor window onto the roof to watch all the people walking by.
It was a Top Five day of my life.
Today is the Sesquicentennial for Canada. And while everything in Canada is always a bit muted compared to the U.S., I feel the same sort of party atmosphere as what I remember in 1976. To all my friends and comrades in Canada, I wish you great joy and happiness, and a Top Five day. Cheers!